Judge asks woman if she would 'close' legs to stop sexual assault
A New Jersey judge is accused of violating the state code of judicial conduct after asking a woman during a hearing if she closed her legs during a possible sexual assault.
Superior Court Judge John Russo faces discipline and could lose his position following the eye-popping exchange in his courtroom in 2016.
A defense lawyer was grilling the woman about the alleged rape when Russo intervened, according to the judicial board's formal complaint.
"Would it be fair to say that you are capable of asserting yourself against unwanted sexual advances?" the lawyer asked the woman.
"I guess so. I don't really know," the woman responded.
Judge Russo then said, "I'm sorry, but, 'I guess so,' is not an answer. Do you understand the question?"
"Not really, I don't understand the question," she answered.
Russo then said he would ask the question: "Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?"
"Yes," the woman responded.
"How would you do that?" the judge asked, according to the complaint.
"I'd probably physically harm them somehow," she said.
"Short of physically harming them?" the judge inquired.
"Tell them no," she said.
"Tell them no. What else?"
"To stop," she answered.
Later, the judge would ask, "close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?"
The board charges that Judge Russo "was discourteous and mistreated the victim" as he assumed the role of defense counsel.
The complaint lists other grievances against Russo, including a "conflict of interest" claim in a case where he did not recuse himself despite knowing multiple parties in a case. Russo was placed on paid administrative leave last year.
Lawyer David Corrigan told the Asbury Park Press that "we are pleased that Judge Russo will have a public hearing regarding the allegations which have been raised against him."
"We have respect for both the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, as well as the process. Therefore, we don't believe it would be appropriate to have any further comment, pending the hearing," he said.
The Ocean County judge is a former mayor of Toms River, according to the Asbury Park Press.
Judge Russo has 20 days to respond to the charges, which were filed on Monday.
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